Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG), Novartis AG (NYSE:NVS) Take Stakes in Flexus Biosciences

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In early 2015, Flexus Biosciences nabbed a $1.25 billion acquisition by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (NYSE:BMY) after spending less than two years on research involving novel small molecule cancer immunotherapies. Currently, the former Flexus execs have joined again forming Ideaya Biosciences. They are in another attempt to create novel small molecule oncology candidates that are single agent therapies, and can be combined with each other and other existing oncology approaches including checkpoint inhibitors.

The new company is focused on instigating synthetic lethality (SL). This is a notion that combining two specifically paired mutations can result in cell death.

According to Yujiro Hata, co-founder and CEO of Ideaya, AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN) sells Lynparza, a poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor that hinders the enzymes responsible for repairing the DNA, which is proof of the synthetic lethality concept. This drug was appvoed in December 2014 for the treatment of ovarian cancer associated with faulty BRCA genes.

Hata said that the Ideaya team was exploring synthetic lethal pairs across the genome. The team is using gene editing tools including CRISPR/Cas9, which is important in discovering and validating the SL gene relationships that are relevant to cancer. Such tools allow precise editing to eliminate off-target activity and to asses phenotypes and SL more definitively.

Ideaya anticipates that on combining SL with immuno-oncology, the DNA damage initiated by SL could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapies. This will result in more effective alterations in the tumor microenvironment.

According to Hata, the $46 million Series A round raised by Ideaya team is expected to be sufficient to get two small molecule drugs into the clinic.

A year before Hata, Ideaya had begun an incubation at 5AM Ventures. At that point, 5AM Ventures initiated a seed investment. Initially, the startup targeted $30 million for the Series A, and this sum was oversubscribed by over half in the final total.

Including 5AM, the syndicate includes Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG), Canaan Partners, Novartis AG’s (NYSE:NVS) Institute of Biomedical Research and Alexandria Real Estate, WuXi Healthcare Ventures. Celgene was an investor in Flexus.

Summing up, Hata said that the ingredients that were used for building Flexus are the same as those the Ideaya team is using. Bring together the best industry’s advisors and scientists to tackle some of the challenges and biggest opportunities in cancer research.

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